Even without listening, US lives in Limbaugh’s media world

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FILE - In this Feb. 4, 2020 file photo, Rush Limbaugh reacts as first Lady Melania Trump, and his wife Kathryn, applaud, as President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington. Limbaugh, the talk radio host who became the voice of American conservatism, has died. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

NEW YORK – You didn't have to like or even listen to Rush Limbaugh to be affected by what he did.

Conservative talk radio wasn't a genre before him. Without Limbaugh, it's hard to imagine a Fox News Channel, or a President Donald Trump, or a media landscape defined by shouters of all stripes that both reflect and influence a state of political gridlock.

To his fans, Limbaugh's death Wednesday of lung cancer at the age of 70 was an occasion for deep mourning. For his foes, it was good riddance. Somewhere, Rush could surely appreciate it.

He left a legacy.

“He was the most important individual media figure of the last four decades,” said Ian Reifowitz, professor of historical studies at the State University of New York and author of “The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh's Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump.”

That assessment was freely offered even though Reifowitz, as the title of his book suggests, isn't a fan. He blames Limbaugh for setting a blueprint for white identity politics and the dividing of the nation into uneasy tribes.

Limbaugh's death led Trump to call in to Fox News Channel for his first television interview since leaving office — and he did it twice.

Former Vice President Mike Pence told Fox he was inspired by Limbaugh to become a talk radio host himself, which launched his political career. Ex-White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany reminisced about riding as a child in her father's pick-up truck as Limbaugh's show played on the radio.